Tuesday, September 13, 2005

"Wheels within wheels, not so much setting the future in motion as grinding it down into a dust so fine it can never hold its' true shape again. But there are things other than strength. Grace that transcends beauty and heroes born out of more than the diversity between pain, fear and hope."



SUMMARY: "Wheels within wheels, not so much setting the future in motion as grinding it down into a dust so fine it can never hold its' true shape again. But there are things other than strength. Grace that transcends beauty and heroes born out of more than the diversity between pain, fear and hope." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Such a cryptic message but what did it mean? Inara Serra stared at the screen. She had completed her last appointment when the blinking light had caught her eye. She noticed the incoming message was in privacy mode. So. Text only. Not unusual but rare enough to begin sounding a muted alarm. The wave signature was definitely Serenity's but the content surprised her. Inara blinked back her confusion then stared in stunned silence as she slowly made sense of the words. The Companion caught her breath and took a closer look. Ever since the Anglo-Sino Accord had been signed under Unification the official languages of the Core and all the planets under its' hegemony had been Chinese and English. But this, this was neither. Inara only knew the tongue because of her profession. Multilingual, her talents covered many areas of expertise. The Spanish flowed through her mind in an elegant haunting tapestry, the words of the ancient Spanish mystic brought an ache to her heart. Yet, beyond the undeniable romantic flourish and flattery was a code, it had to be. It was the only thing that made sense. A code not encrypted just couched in the language of love. This code that was not a code was meant for sharp eyes and keener senses to decipher and Inara Serra, Registered Companion that she was, had both.

Pulling her pilot's chair closer to the console, Inara peered more closely at the screen determined to find out just how much *goushi* Serenity and her dysfunctional crew had got themselves into. And why the cryptic wave was being sent in the form of a venerable erotic poem from the distant annals of Earth-That-Was.

* * * * *

He was tired. Every muscle ached and every joint burned. The shackles were the least of it. The terror that was meant to be instilled nullified by his obdurate serene point of centre. A disingenous smile teased lips whose humour existed in the twisted atmosphere of the ninth hell. Chung-li knew it. Could smell the sulphour, almost taste the brimstone evaporating what little moisture remained in his mouth. His senses were sharp, aware, but his consciousness would not be contained within the flaring walls of pain that bound him to the physical. His tormentor thought the shackles imprisoned and neutered his strength. He was wrong. And Chung-li would gladly die before he would teach him the difference.

"I am impressed." The voice mildly opined. The figure moving slowly out of shadow, eyes never leaving the bound man's face. "Yes, very impressed. Most men would have broken by now. Eager to speak." The man paused as if in deep thought, his forefinger resting against his lips as if considering something he had not thought about before. "You are strong. *Wangu*. In this you are alike, yes?"

Chung-li remained silent. He knew he would not be killed. The taste of the bargain hurt more than the torture. To see what he had seen, suffer not only the shame but the incredible sorrow in that discovery... it had almost unmade him. But weakness would not help his friend and regret would not untie the shackles that bound him. Understanding would not remove the monster from this *diyu*. If the Devil had a mortal face it was the one staring back at him now.

"You are *yonggan*." The words were whispered. Quiet and soft. Those beady eyes intent and probing. "Courageous even." The man straightened. "But you will not die. Even when it is the thing you want most in the 'verse. A bargain, yes. The price? Not so high I think."

He wanted to rail at him. Scatter a diatribe of obscenities but holding his tongue gave Chung-li all the power. It didn't matter a good gorram if his enemy deluded himself that it was otherwise. In fact, it was better if he believed his own blood encrusted myth.

"This is not a time for brave, courageous men." The voice continued. Softly, almost soothing in that insincere descant intended to lull him into dropping his defences. A chink in the armour to elevate his fear but Chung-li did not fear.

Then, to Chung-li's surprise the man stepped back and two of his bully boys moved forward. Not to weild knives or fists this time, nor to attach electrodes to his body. Instead the manacles and shackles were unfastened and he was allowed to slow his collapse to the floor by strength of will alone. In this way only, his body obeyed him. The wizzened man peered down at him, light reflecting and hiding those beady little malicious eyes. Then the man straightened, words passing over Chung-li's head as orders were given to clean him up, tend his wounds, then put him in a cell. He did not fight them off when they came for him. Showed no sign of responding as they cleaned, dressed and stitched up the wounds that criss crossed his chest and back. Made no murmur as they added a stinging compound for the sheer joy of getting a rise out of him. He gave them nothing. Murmuring darkly among themselves they flung him in the cell and cycled the lock. He did not care. He was the one place he needed to be.

Quietly, solemnly, Chung-li flexed his muscles. Muscle group by muscle group, then individually, while he schooled his mind in preparation. The first battle had been lost but not the war. Now the enemy was off guard. Lulled into complacency. He would bide his time, embrace the centre of calm that guarded his warrior spirit. Gather the inner strength like a mantle around him. For he knew he would only get one chance and he must be ready when his brother called.

* * * * *

Simon stared at his sister. "Are you *shenjingbing, mei mei*?"

His sister smiled at him. Jayne just looked nonplussed. "What are ya talkin' about?"

The siblings ignored him which was beginning to annoy the hell out of him. Simon licked his lips nervously. He dropped his voice. "I can't believe you did that."

"I'm a genius."

"River, we can't draw Inara into this."

"Can't shut her out." He blinked. "What do you mean?"

"Poor Simon, too slow to join the dots." Her softly mocking voice infuriated him. "Don't do that!" He snapped. It took a moment to calm himself again. "Just explain to me how having Inara share this nightmare will help."

Jayne was frowning now. "Nightmare? What gorram nightmare?"

"Divide and conquer, Simon."

The mercenary got to his feet. He'd had enough of crazy for one day. To his surprise Simon wheeled round and pointed to the bed. "Sit!"

Reacting to the unexpected tone of command Jayne sat before he realised what he was doing, then anger caught up with him and a dangerous light flared in his eyes. Before he could countermand Simon and knock the snotty doctor on his Core-bred ass River intervened. "Sssh, won't be long now."

Confused Jayne stared at her. The only good thing to come out of the Tams annoying presence was that for the first time since he'd been infected his dick didn't hurt.

* * * * *

Even with the course set and knowing it would take a couple of days to reach their destination Wash could not relax let alone sleep. Everything that could be wrong multiplied in the back of his mind. The feelings of foreboding only exacerbated by his beautiful and deadly wife's tension and thinly veiled anger. He had tried to distract her with wit, questions and sex. Nothing worked. It was like a shell with too much empty inside. "*Bao bei*, this has to stop."

Her wired introspection paused. Zoe's dark eyes considered her husband. They were the only two on the bridge. Zoe didn't like leaving the Captain with those shifty *wangba dans* but she didn't think she could hold her tongue another second. Coming to find Wash was as close to normal as she could get right now. Wash put on his puppy dog expression and tilted his head, the plea in his heart reflected in every line of his body and face. He was aiming for adorable but would settle for pathetic if that was what worked.


"*Duibuqi, zhangfu*. I just can't believe the Cap'n's followin' that *pofu*. It's like every lick of sense has been siphoned out of his ruttin' brain through his ears."

It was on the tip of Wash's tongue to make a really smart uncomplimentary remark but he managed to bite it back in time. The mood Zoe was in right now she was as likely to trash him as hear him out. The Captain might be borderline crazy or a completely flipped head case but while Zoe might think it she wasn't about to let anyone else say it. Had to be that whole war buddy thing. Once that would have raised all kinds of green eyed monsters but now it just made Wash sad. "I'm not sayin' I don't understand the Cap'n 'cause I do but there has to be another way. A way to check this out before putting our heads in the noose."


Wash nodded and slowly drew her into the circle of his arms. Slowly, as if any quick or overt move would kick in defences that would kick him out. "Yeah, noose, you know like that whole hangman thing." She stared blankly at him. But hell, Zoe didn't need him coherent to make love. Wash drew her on to his lap and gently kissed her shoulder but never broke eye contact.

"There must be a way we can contact Glory. Send a wave to Rafe and find out whether Chung-li is still there. If he is I say we send that lyin' *pofu* an' her henchmen out into atmo."

Zoe gave him a small smile, but the worry in her eyes cancelled out the warm feel of her in his arms. "Can't."

"*Weishenme bu*?"

"Cap'n says the com's compromised."

"*Shenme*?" Surprise, then outrage rang through the Pilot. He sat up abruptly, nearly displacing Zoe from his lap. "Why didn't he say anythin'? I'm the pilot, I should know these things!"

"*Zhenjing xialai*, honey. Cap'n thought it best not to alarm anyone."

"Alarm?" Wash's voice rose an octave or two while Zoe tried to calm then distract him. "Who's alarmed?"

* * * * *

The atmosphere in the commons area was tense even though Captain Malcolm Reynolds exuded a calm he certainly didn't feel. He kept to the niceties of their business arrangement, his eyes keeping track of every move Shen Ling made aboard his boat while keeping a civil tongue in his head. Kaylee could almost taste the undercurrent. Fear quickened her pulse, brought moisture up through her trembling pores, but the Captain kept her steady. Something awful comforting about having a man in charge who didn't buckle when the pressure mounted. The Captain sipped his coffee slowly, his dark eyes angled over the rim at their 'guests'. Hobbes seemed to find the inactivity almost physically painful while Manning acted as if there was nothing untoward.

Mal was pretty sure Shen Ling had done something to him. It irked that he couldn't be sure exactly what it was. It was almost like being hypnotised except it didn't last as long, just a couple of heartbeats frozen in some other tableau over which he had no control. The creepy feeling it left behind heightened the tingling feeling in his back brain that told him she was all kinds of trouble. Was confused as *diyu* that her words had all the weight of truth behind them even when he knew she was lying. How she managed it he couldn't say but this was one mystery that would only be solved by letting it play out. The Captain released a slow cautious sigh. This was one hell of a time for his mercenary to be off his feet. So he stayed sharp and tried to hide how helpless he felt.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*goushi* = crap/dog shit *wangu* = stubborn *diyu* = hell *yonggan* = brave *shenjingbing* = crazy *mei mei* = little sister *bao bei* = precious/treasure *wangba dan* = fucking bastard *qing* = please *duibuqi* = thanks *zhangfu* = husband *pofu* = bitch *weishenme bu* = why not *shenme* = what? *zhenjing xialai* = calm down


Monday, September 19, 2005 7:58 AM


Eeks. Poor Mal. Shen Ling's a formidable opponent. Just as well River's in the background ...

And poor Wash. Always left out.

And some vintage Jayne moments. That man should be bottled! (In the good way).


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.